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UK arrivals could be asked to take ‘post-quarantine’ test in bid to block new variants, minister says

“All international arrivals will be made to take two tests during their 10-day quarantine period, the Government will announce today – as a minister admitted the process could be bolstered further. Matt Hancock is expected to announce that all arrivals into the UK will have to take Covid tests on days two and eight of their self-isolation at home, as the Government scrambles to keep new variants out of the country. His Cabinet colleague George Eustice suggested they could go further and introduce “post-quarantine” testing as well. The Environment Secretary told Sky News the Department of Health was looking at how to “strengthen further” mandatory testing in light of concerns about the efficacy of the vaccines against the South African variant, although he noted that the Kent variant remains “our main challenge at the moment”.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Air passengers from high Covid-risk countries may be segregated – The Times
  • Hotels rebel over ‘open-ended’ quarantine into summer… – Daily Telegraph
  • …as Government admits no deals signed yet – The Sun
  • Britons vaccinated against Covid could get QR codes to travel – Daily Telegraph

>Today: Will Tanner in Comment: Covid and vaccines. Imagine what would have happened if we’d junked intervention – and opted instead for laissez faire.

Teachers ‘could be given Covid vaccine sooner if they agree to cut summer holidays short’

“The school summer holidays could be cut short to help kids catch up, ministers confirmed yesterday. Some Whitehall insiders hope teaching unions who oppose the plan could be bought off if they are bumped up the vaccination list. Health Minister Edward Argar said the government is considering “a whole range of things” to help children claw back their lost classroom time. This includes lengthening the school day and slicing a fortnight off the lengthy summer holidays. Sir Kevan Collins, the new education catch-up tsar, said “all options” are on the table to help children claw back lost classroom time… He said ministers will need to “act quite quickly around things like summer and summer schools for example”.” – The Sun

  • New hand-held coronavirus test could allow visitors back to care homes – The Times
  • Pharmacist tells of the trials and triumphs on the vaccine front line – Daily Mail

Comment:

  • Our children deserve better than teaching unions’ outrageous demands – Laura Perrins, Daily Mail

>Yesterday: Sam Thurgood in Comment: The NHS draft White Paper – and why most of its proposals are a move in the right direction

Brits mustn’t be forced by their employers to get Covid jabs, says Argar

“Brits must not be forced to get a Covid vaccine before they can return to work, the health minister warned business bosses today. Edward Argar said jabs have to remain voluntary and there are other ways firms can make their offices secure from the virus. He was commenting on reports that companies could use existing health and safety laws to try and force their staff to get vaccinated. Mr Argar said there are no plans to introduce vaccine passports or immunity certificates that would give those who have been jabbed greater rights. But some Cabinet ministers are believed to be pressing for such a scheme to open up the economy and foreign holidays sooner.” – The Sun

  • Hancock says over-70s no longer need to wait for Covid vaccine invite from the NHS – Daily Mail

More:

  • Longer coronavirus lockdown ‘will help avoid mutations’ – The Times
  • New Covid variants pose ultimate challenge to UK’s test and trace programme – FT
  • South Africa strain not likely to take over, says Van-Tam – The Times

>Yesterday: Neil O’Brien’s column: Imperfect vaccines, new variants, domestic mutations. Why there must be no rush out of lockdown.

Johnson ‘backs short boost to universal credit payments’

“Boris Johnson is expected to side with Rishi Sunak in a cabinet split over universal credit by extending the £20-a-week uplift for six months rather than a year. The chancellor is locked in a battle with Thérèse Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, over when to remove the extra payment, which was introduced at the start of the pandemic. Sunak is concerned that extending the uplift for a year at a cost of £6 billion would lead to it becoming permanent. He is preparing measures for his budget on March 3 that he hopes will galvanise the economy. Johnson is understood to share Sunak’s concerns and has accepted the six-month extension. Sunak had originally proposed a £500 one-off upfront payment for benefit claimants, which was rejected by Downing Street.” – The Times

  • Prime Minister ‘must extend £20 uplift for a year’ or thousands will fall into poverty, say MPs – The Sun

Comment:

  • Vaccines will open up Pandora’s box of woes for businesses – Jill Kirby, Daily Telegraph

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: The Universal Credit Uplift. Easy in, but not easy out.

At least 12 English councils in rescue talks as Covid shatters local finances

“At least 12 English councils have been in rescue talks with the government, in what could be the “tip of the iceberg”, according to experts, as the Covid-19 pandemic lays waste to local authority finances. Croydon council in November became only the second local authority in 20 years to issue a “section 114 notice” — equivalent to bankruptcy for a local authority — following its use by Northamptonshire county council in 2018. But Rob Whiteman, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, on Monday said 12 authorities are in talks with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government “in or around a section 114 position”. Of those, six have agreed terms with the government, he added, employing so-called “capitalisation orders” from ministers to allow greater flexibility to use capital funds for day-to-day spending — in order to prevent entering a section 114.” – FT

  • Tesco and Asda chiefs beg Sunak to permanently cut business rates to save High Street – The Sun
  • Return to Covid tiers ‘could plunge millions in England into crisis’ – The Guardian

More:

  • Johnson ‘failing to listen to women’ risking 1970s inequality for millions, warns Nokes – The Sun

Prime Minister faces Tory revolt over post-Brexit trade deals with countries involved in genocide

“Boris Johnson could face severe backlash from Tory backbenchers who are pushing to prohibit trade agreements with countries carrying out genocide. A potential House of Lords amendment could be passed with the support of Tory rebels who want to ban trade deals with countries that the High Court deems are committing genocide. Under those parameters, Britain would be unable to reach an agreement with China over its activities in the Xinjiang region where it has been reported Uighur Muslims are subject to inhumane treatment. Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith has hit out at other ministers, describing them as “desperate” to avoid confrontation with China.” – Daily Express

  • UK declines to follow US in suspending Saudi arms sales over Yemen – The Guardian

Comment:

  • Why the Anglosphere sees eye to eye on China – Gideon Rachman, FT
  • A superpower rivalry centred on technology – William Hague, Daily Telegraph

>Today: ToryDiary: Who’s in charge of the Government’s clattering China train? It’s heading for a crash.

Defence Secretary highlights ‘growing risk of attacks’

“Ben Wallace has warned of a growing threat of chemical and biological attacks, blaming a “breakdown of world order” as states ignore long-established international rules. The defence secretary said there was concern that some regimes believed it was acceptable to use nerve agents and pathogens against their opponents after attacks in Britain and Syria. In an exclusive interview he said that the internet provided a “turbo boost” for terrorist groups or nation states seeking to research and develop such weapons. His comments came as The Times was given rare access to Porton Down, the government’s secretive defence laboratory in Wiltshire where military research is carried out. Scientists at the establishment, known as the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, have also played a key role in developing diagnostic tests and disinfectants for the coronavirus.” – The Times

  • UK terrorism threat level lowered to ‘substantial’ – BBC
  • Anti-terror chief clashes with Patel as he calls for positive discrimination – Daily Mail

Eustice warns EU that Britain ‘will get tough’ if Brussels doesn’t back down in row over shellfish exports

“Britain could start boarding European fishing boats to interrupt their catches unless Brussels backs down in a row over shellfish exports, a Cabinet minister indicated yesterday. Environment Secretary George Eustice warned that the Government could drop its ‘pragmatic and sensible’ approach unless the EU starts being reasonable in return. Brussels has told British fishermen they are indefinitely banned from selling live mussels, oysters, clams, cockles and scallops to EU member states. The shellfish can only be transported to the Continent if they have already been treated in purification plants.” – Daily Mail

Northern Ireland 1) EU poised to reject two-year extension to grace period

“Brussels appears poised to reject the UK’s calls for a two-year extension of the grace periods for post-Brexit trade in Northern Ireland. Multiple Whitehall and EU sources have told The Telegraph that the European Commission is likely to agree to only a three to six-month extension of the arrangements in place for traders moving goods between Britain and the province. Ahead of a crunch meeting in London on Thursday, EU figures also accused the UK of exploiting an international backlash against Brussels over its aborted move to erect a hard vaccine border on the island of Ireland. While the UK argues the controversy has highlighted the need for urgent solutions to the problems being experienced in Northern Ireland, EU diplomats claimed the issue was being used to try and force through a renegotiation of the agreement.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Gove calls for Brussels to be ‘pragmatic’ over Ulster… – FT
  • …and demands an explanation for its brash move to invoke Article 16 – Daily Express

More:

  • EU citizens who left during Covid pandemic set to lose right to stay in Britain – The Times
  • ICE to shift EU carbon trading from London to Amsterdam – FT
  • Dover port bosses dismiss Brexit doom-mongers as freight traffic returns to normal – The Sun

>Yesterday: Sammy Wilson MP in Comment: The Northern Ireland Protocol should be replaced, not repaired

Northern Ireland 2) Johnson urged to stand by vow to protect Army veterans from legal witch hunts

“An MP yesterday urged Boris Johnson to stand by a vow he made in The Sun to protect military veterans from legal witch hunts in Northern Ireland. Mark Francois said troops are dying “with a sword of Damocles” over their heads due to the PM’s inaction. The ex-armed forces minister told Parliament: “When he stood for the Tory leadership he published an open letter in The Sun, with the pledge. Over 18 months and an election later, where is the bill? All we ask is he keeps his promise.” The Sun revealed on Monday that no IRA terrorists are being investigated over the murder of 722 British soldiers. Yet 12 more British ­soldiers are facing possible murder charges.” – The Sun

  • Sinn Fein leader ‘begs Britain to send spare vaccines to Ireland’ – The Sun

Labour has a ‘mountain to climb’, Starmer admits after polling sees party fall behind Tories

“Labour has a “mountain to climb”, Sir Keir Starmer has admitted after polling has seen the party fall behind the Conservatives. The Labour leader was forced to defend his leadership after polls suggested he is struggling to overturn support for the Tories during the pandemic. According to research by Ipsos MORI the Boris Johnson’s party has pulled ahead of Labour by four points, with 44 per cent of the 1,056 adults interviewed stating the Prime Minister would respond better to the pandemic from now until the end of the crisis, compared with 27 per cent who think Sir Keir would do better. Speaking at a pub in Thurrock after a visit to Basildon town centre, Sir Keir said the party had “started in a very poor place a year or so ago, 24 points behind the Government”, but believed they had now taken “a step in the right direction”.” – Daily Telegraph

Sturgeon’s husband denies lying on oath

“Nicola Sturgeon’s husband has denied lying to a parliamentary inquiry about a meeting his wife had with Alex Salmond to discuss allegations of sexual harassment. Peter Murrell, who is also the chief executive of the Scottish National Party, gave contradictory accounts of the gathering at the couple’s home on April 2, 2018, when the Scottish first minister has said that she first learnt of a government inquiry into Salmond. In December he told the Holyrood investigation into the government’s unlawful handling of the complaints that he was not at home in Glasgow during the meeting and was “not really aware” that it was taking place. Later in that session he said he had been told about the meeting the day before and arrived home during it.” – The Times

  • Murrell told his evidence to Salmond inquiry is ‘not credible’ – Daily Telegraph
  • Salmond demands clarification of rules before he faces MSPs – The Guardian

More:

  • SNP ordered civil service to work on aligning Scotland with EU rules despite Covid chaos – Daily Express

Comment:

  • Johnson can’t rely on internal feuds to derail Scottish independence – Simon Jenkins, The Guardian

>Yesterday: Meghan Gallacher in Local Government: Scottish Conservatives want to give planning decisions back to local communities

News in Brief:

  • Newspapers concerned over government’s FOI process – BBC
  • Ellwood is wrong: we’d be far worse off in a world without Big Tech – Sam Bowman, CapX
  • Labour’s proposal to scrap honours is bizarre – Henry Hill, UnHerd
  • Are the Tories trying to put politics back into the NHS? – Isabel Hardman, The Spectator
  • We are all Maoists now – Alex Story, The Critic